So where was I? Oh yes we had arrived in San Martin de los Andes. A very smart little town in the Andes. Lots of designer stores and sporting shops. I think Jill was remembering a past life of Karen Millen and killer heels.
As I said previously the apartment was fab and it seemed we were the only residents in the complex. The town had a road in and a road out. At one end was endless mountains roads and at the other an amazing lake. On the first day we decided to take a walk to see the lake. It was drizzling slightly as we set out. A soon as we cleared the end of the street and stepped out of the shelter of the buildings it was blowing a gale and my jeans started to get soaked. Retreat! That would have to wait until tomorrow.
Next day and the weather was great. We had decided to hike up to a view point overlooking the town and lake. The girl at the tourist info office had given us directions. It gets steep and always take the right hand path if it forks she said. Steep, she wasn't joking. And which of the eight different right hand paths do we take?
As we were guessing the paths and plodding breathlessly upwards a lady with a shopping bag came down the dirt track. We both remembered that the tourist girl had said something about a Quilmes community living up here. A bloody long way to the shops I said jokingly. The Quilmes are a native people. They have also named the local beer Quilmes. I'm not sure why.
Anyway we eventually reached the top and yep there are people living up there. A few shanty huts but home to someone. The view was well worth the climb and we sat and enjoyed it for half an hour. The lake just disappeared from view it was so large. There is a boat trip to the other end and it takes about 4 hours so that gives an idea of the size. The sun was shining and we decided to descend and have lunch by the lake.
On the way down we passed the same lady coming up with her shopping bag. Many a true word said in jest. As usual we collected a couple of dogs as walking companions.
At the bottom the wind was blowing but we huddled up and ate our sarnies before going to the coffee shop for a warm brew. San Martin is miles from anywhere but a nice town.
Next morning we caught the bus to Neuquen. There is nothing much in Neuquen but it is a good size town and you pretty much have to go through it on the way north. Again the drive was through amazing scenery. It was a 6 hour drive which seemed to fly by. As I've mentioned before people join and leave the bus in odd places. The buses also leave pretty much dead on time.
We were about half an hour out of another town called Junín de los Andes when we overtaken by a taxi. We like to sit at the front of the coach if we can to get the best views. The taxi flew by then swerved off the road with the driver waving out of the window. The coach just carried on. I said to Jill 'I bet that taxi is carrying someone who has missed the bus'. Sure enough it came flying by again and started swerving across the road in front of us and slowing down. A text book TPAC stop (one for the police readers). Text book it may have been but it caused a double decker coach to stop in a precarious place forcing a petrol tanker across the road. Two people leapt out with their bags and got on the coach. Meantime the very large coach driver went to the taxi driver and verbally tore him apart. He was not impressed. I think the taxi driver thought he had his last fare on this planet when the second coach driver went and joined in. Once we were underway again one of the drivers came up and asked the two ladies sat alongside us if they would make statements. Clearly a complaint was going in.
The taxi driver was a little lucky as often police officers hitch rides on the coaches and they all have very big guns.
Excitement over, we arrived in Neuquen. It was a one night stop before taking a night bus out to Mendoza the next day. Our hostel room was cheap and had two bunk beds in a basement room. Not great but the staff were very friendly and it was clean and tidy. We actually had a great night's sleep.
Next day we checked out of the room at 10am. They stored our luggage but we had to kill time until 9.30pm when the coach left. Killing 12 hours in Neuquen is a bit like killing 12 hours in Staines except it shuts between 1 and 4pm. We went to the art museum. That took all of 30 minutes. We looked at the open air markets. Another 30 minutes.
As I've mentioned before the local past time is protest marching. After years of military rule they can't get enough. Today's theme was 'legalize cannabis'. 100 yoof with banners and drums exercising their democratic rights watched by 4 bored police officers. In the middle of the square with the protestors was a fit young girl who was naked from the waist up and daubed in green paint. I missed the connection but felt she was worth more of a look than the art gallery.
Jill eventually made me leave and head for a bar to watch the cup final. It's never pretty when Liverpool plays Chelsea. One of us is always unhappy. Today it was my turn. The ball was clearly over the line but I guess it made up for the Garcia goal some years before.
9.30pm and we boarded the night bus for a 12 hour drive to Mendoza. We had the front seat upstairs on a double decker coach. Leather seats with a full recline. Great we thought. We had eaten as we weren't sure if we would get fed on board. We had barely departed when the tele came on playing Argentine pop songs quite loudly. Next we were brought food. No thanks I'm full.
Food over and it's now about 11pm. Lights out we thought for a good sleep. Oh no. Who the f*** would start a movie at 11pm at night. To top it all it was a dubbed film which Tom Hanks wrote, produced, directed and starred in. It was awful and it went on until 12.30am. I was not happy.
Eventually El Tom shut the f*** up and we got some sleep. 7.30am and we were woken with coffee and breakfast. Now I'm no Jamie Oliver but what the hell were they thinking at the company meeting that decided that what you would like for breakfast after a restless night on a coach was 3 dry crackers a boiled sweet and a cup cake !!!! Give me strength.
Mendoza arrived and we got off the coach. First stop was the station cafe for a hot strong coffee mmmmm. We hopped in a taxi and headed for our apartment. Nearly 3 months on the road and although we've had variable accommodation it's all been clean and bearable.
We arrived to find no one there. Ok it was early so we hung about for a while. Eventually a lady arrived and let us store our bags. Come back at 10.30 she said and the room will be ready. It was a nice morning so we went for a walk.
We went back at 10.30 paid a deposit on the 4 day stay. This took about 20 minutes as neither she nor her dad (some old bloke had turned up) knew how much the room cost. We figured they were the cleaner and the caretaker. After some chat she showed us cheerily to our room.
Whenever we check in we inspect the bathroom and the bedroom. The room smelt of smoke. The furniture was tired. I looked in the kitchenette cupboard and pulled out the frying pan. It was mank. There were no cooking utensils. In short it was crap. I guess it was going to happen eventually. Off went to find the lady. I showed her the frying pan and she recoiled. I invited her back to the room......no not for that.....you haven't seen her !
Talking in Spanish is hard enough, but complaining is doubly difficult. Out with the phrase book. No knives, no cooking utensils, no stirring spoons. Jill tried to draw a spatula. Not easy for a woman who has never seen one !!!!
I just looked menacing with an eating knife in my hand. When I eventually let my lack of sleep get the better of me and threw it in the sink she handed back the deposit and thanked us as we left.
Fortunately right next door was a small hotel. Let's see what that's like I said. Nice room, 10 pound more a night, where do I sign. I'm currently in a big warm bed well fed with a glass of red writing this. Night night everyone.